Distinctives of the Three Types of Small Group Connecting Events

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While every church has its own names for the three main types of small group connecting events (I’ll also tell you about a twist that I’ve found interesting and effective), there are certain key distinctives that set them apart.  I think it’s important to make these distinctions because sometimes people will tell me they’ve already tried a strategy, but when I poke around I realize that they’ve tried a version of it, but not the real version.  That’s very important to understand.

Here are what I’ve found the three types of events to be:

  • Small Group Connection: Developed at Saddleback, the essence of the small group connection idea is that unconnected people who want to join a group are invited to attend an event where groups will be formed.  A sorting process is used to group participants by affinity (life-stage, geography, meeting availability, etc.).  The process of the event itself helps identify leaders within each of the groups formed.  The main distinctive is that the connection process identifies leaders (where you previously had not identified them).  You can read more about how to do a small group connection right here.
  • GroupLink: Developed at North Point, Group Link is primarily an opportunity for unconnected people to connect with pre-qualified leaders.  While there are some similarities between Group Link and the small group connection, the main distinctive is that pre-qualified leaders are available and play an important part.  You can read a little more about Group Link right here.  You can order Group Link materials from North Point right here.
  • Small Group Fair: many churches hold a small group fair inviting many or all of their small groups to host a table or booth advertise or promote their group.  Unconnected people looking for a group are invited to “stop by the tables, talk with the leaders or members and see if they can find a good match.”  Described in the book Dog Training, Fly Fishing and Sharing Christ in the 21st Century, the main distincitive of a small group fair is that existing groups are given an opportunity to market themselves in a fun environment.  It’s important to remember that this method adds members to existing groups.

A twist on the small group connection strategy that I’ve found to work very well is what I call a Book Study.  I run it like a connection.  The main distinctive of this event is that leaders emerge over the course of the first few weeks.  Here’s the gist of the way it works:

  • We advertise the study (we’ve done studies like The Measure of a Man and Bad Girls of the Bible).
  • On the first day of the study we sort everyone out into tables of 6 to 8 people and then give them a few discussion questions to get them through the first night.  Then we give them their homework assignment (read the chapter).  We also have them jot down the name and phone number of the person on their right and commit to call that person during the week.  And then we say goodnight.
  • The next week they show up and we seat them at the same tables as the previous week.  After a very brief opener, we release them to discus the questions at the end of the first chapter.  In almost every case, a natural leader emerges during the second meeting.  At the end of the meeting, we give them their homework assignment for the next week.  We have them jot down the name and number of the person on their left, committing to call midweek.  And we say goodnight.
  • Two years in a row we’ve had them meet on-campus for the first 4 to 5 weeks and then off-campus for the last 2 to 3.  The best part?  Many of the groups are still meeting a year later.

Want do you think?  Have one to add?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

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  1. Mike Mack on December 8, 2011 at 8:45 am

    Mark, good post. For your book study connection, when have you found is the optimum time for doing this? A weeknight? Also, I’m assuming you have a good large space with round tables to do this in, right? I’d love to see more logistics, if there are any. Thanks.

  2. mark riggins on December 8, 2011 at 10:19 am

    Mark these distinctions are helpful. Thanks for sharing. We’re hosting an event that is a cross between Group Link (new groups w/pre-qualified leaders) and Group Fair (existing groups adding to their group). We coach these pre-qualified leaders to recruit a “Core of Four” in advance creating a strong base committed to starting this group. This helps to self-select leaders. If people are unable to get others to start a group with them then they may not be strong leaders. 

  3. Anonymous on December 8, 2011 at 10:34 am

    Thanks Mike! The answer to both is “yes!” You can read a little more about how we worked the Measure of a Man event right here: http://www.markhowelllive.com/file-this-under-connection-ideas/ And I’ll add another post next week with additional info.


  4. Anonymous on December 8, 2011 at 11:31 am

    I like it! There’s truth to what you’re saying. At the same time, don’t miss the fact that one of the very important distinctions between GroupLink and the Small Group Connection is the fact that only the Connection identifies leaders you did not know about. Depending on the size of your church…that is a very big challenge.


  5. markriggins on December 8, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    Great point Mark. We’re not a huge church (about 1,500 adults) but group leaders are needed. Right now, I’m recruiting leaders from stage in advance of a new group cycle. We try and make the process easy for them (texting) to indicate interest. Then I follow-up with info and training dates.

    I LOVE the connection concept? How many of these groups continue? How many of these leaders continue to lead?

    Here’s our new group strategy for 2012: http://tinyurl.com/7pyf2xu 

    Grateful for you input!


  6. Anonymous on December 8, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    Love it Mark! Especially love the idea of letting them text their interest. Very cool.

    Sustaining connection groups is no different than any other method. It’s about sequence and timing…starting them at a time when they can go on a 12 week run (not right before summer). It’s about connecting the new leaders with a coach. It’s about giving them a next curriculum about week 3 or 4.

    Not all groups will make it. But think about this…the connection process finds leaders where you didn’t know you had them. And, it identifies leaders from your church who haven’t self-identified. Very significant. At 1500 average adult attendance, you might have tons of people who could and should lead a group, but right now, because they’re comfortable slipping in and out in 75 minutes without much commitment…are missing out on the very thing that God’s wired them to do. And you don’t know who they are. But in a connection, the others at their table spot them in the first few minutes.



  7. markriggins on December 8, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    This is great Mark! I’m intrigued by this. Sounds like key would be good coaches to encourage new leaders. I’ve got to dig in and learn more about this because I think it could help us. Thanks for all of this!